Harris: They have to be at quorum, so a majority of the members have to be there and present an order to have a vote. That is not a unanimous consent—something that they can just kind of say, Everyone agrees that this is what we need to pass, and they just pass the bill. If you want a recorded vote, then they are going to need a quorum. So right now, essentially, what that means is, they need 216 members in order to have a quorum to have the vote.
Wells: To be in person, in the same room?
Harris: Absolutely. Yes. So they have to be there in person in the same room in order to vote. And there has been kind of some momentum to get that changed, because this is an unprecedented crisis that requires some modern thinking. It makes sense for members of Congress to be able to vote virtually. But as of right now, that is how they’re supposed to vote.
Wells: I mean, it seems sort of ridiculous, given how we live. But is there a reason I’m not thinking of why that actually is really important?
Harris: The biggest reason is tradition. It’s the way that things have been done. But, you know, we don’t live in the 18th century anymore.
Wells: I am grateful for that.
Harris: Very likewise. And this has shown some of those fissures in the system. It’s shown even with things like voting. [States] have had to postpone their elections, and they don’t have vote-by-mail infrastructures set up. It’s throwing a monkey wrench into the voting process.
Wells: How could it be that we could have a system that couldn’t respond immediately?
Harris: So the levers of government turn slowly, to be as cliché as possible. And essentially what they’re trying to do now is speed up a response to an immediate crisis. The systems aren’t prepared to deal with a process like this. There were legislators literally driving from their homes in places like Michigan or elsewhere—driving from their homes, trying to get back to D.C. to vote. There is a push to keep the legislators in D.C., but the Senate, of course, is now on recess until April 20. So that means that a lot of people will be leaving the District to go back home. But as this is a very immediate crisis, if something breaks down next week—I mean, we’ve already seen more than 3 million jobless claims. If something else breaks down to a significant point next week, and members of the Senate have already gone home, then they will have to come back to Congress under these severe travel restrictions.
Wells: Can you give us an overview of the main points in the bill?
Harris: The biggest thing that everyone has harped on has been the cash payments. So it’s an estimated total of $300 billion worth of cash payments to Americans. You also have $260 billion for unemployment payments. You have $350 billion allocated for the Small Business Administration to offer loans to small businesses. There’s $10 billion for emergency grants, $58 billions for airlines, $8.8 billion for child nutrition, and $450 million for food banks. So there is a lot in there. This is essentially trying to build a social safety net as people are falling.